“I don’t have any desire to debate Robert Spencer….I would never give someone like that a forum,” Hofstra University Professor Daniel Martin Varisco declared at Georgetown University on February 26, 2014. Addressing the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding (ACMCU), Varisco’s equally flawed outlooks on Islam and intellectual inquiry had disturbing implications for modern academia.
Prior perusal of the opening pages of Varisco’s 2007 Reading Orientalism: Said and Unsaid did not raise hopes for his briefing “Khutba vs. Khutzpa: Islamophobia on the Internet.” In this book, Varisco analyzes leftwing intellectual Edward Said’s Orientalism and its legacy, expressing agreement “with most of Said’s political positions on the real Orient.” Varisco reveals his discipleship of Said with condemnations of post-World War II United States having “become by stealth and wealth the neo-colonial superpower” in which a “neocon clique…engineered the wars” not just “against” Iraq but also Afghanistan. Varisco’s one-sided estimate of historical harms includes a “PhD cataloguing of what the West did to the East and self-unfillfulling political punditry about what real individuals in the East say they want to do to the West.”
Yet, Varisco writes, “Said hardly scratched the surface of the vast sewerage of racist and ethnocentrist writing, art, and cinema that for so long has severed an imaginary East from the dominating West.” “In particular,” Varisco emphasizes,
almost anything that Muslims would consider holy has at one time or another been profaned by Western writers. Perhaps the frustrated worldwide Muslim anger at Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was emetic justice for centuries of vicious and malicious verbal abuse from the West, where this controversial best seller incubated.
Both matters of principle and practicality deter further reading of Varisco. “Truth with a capital T does not exist for anyone,” Varisco nonsensically proclaims as one of his “own operational truths,” thereby placing in doubt Varisco’s views. Varisco’s attempts at humor also do not amuse, such as when he describes the book’s “anal citational flow of endnotes” designed to allow a person to “read for entertainment” Varisco’s turgid tome.
Nothing improved during Varisco’s presentation on “Islamophobia,” described in a Powerpoint image referencing a 1991 Runnymede Trust report as an “unfounded hostility” towards all things and persons Muslim. One Powerpoint on “Combatting Islamophobia on the Internet” set a leveling tone with a recommendation of a “[f]ocus on interfaith efforts, noting that all religions have positive and negative aspects.” This accorded with Varisco’s prior call for scholars to “be doing all we can to refute the notion that Islam is intrinsically more violent than other religions.” “I am not saying that these things don’t happen,” Varisco conceded when showing a picture of a woman undergoing a sharia stoning to death. Another Powerpoint, meanwhile, simply dismissed as “fallacy” controversies that “Muhammad was a pedophile and Islam is cruel to women.”
Varisco gave a historical overview of longstanding negative Western views of Islam. He noted, for example, Dante’s depiction of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in the Inferno and unfavorable 19th century American comparisons of an emerging Mormon faith with Islam. Varisco’s bias was evident when observing that John Smith fought Ottoman Turks before coming to America without ever analyzing whether Smith might have been justified to oppose Muslim aggression. Varisco also reiterated his previously written scorn for an “allegedly Venerable Bede, who condemned invading Muslims of his time as ‘a very sore plague.’” Why this single condemnation of marauding Muslims in France stopped at the 732 Battle of Tours discredited this pioneering English historian in Varisco’s estimation remained unexplained.
In discussing the 1797 American treaty with Tripoli, meanwhile, Varisco bizarrely claimed that “we were doing a lot of trade” with the Barbary States. As any schoolboy should know, though, this treaty, including a tribute payment, was part of American trade protection efforts against Barbary pirate depredations scourging the Mediterranean for centuries. Varisco then noted with a Powerpoint image America’s subsequent Barbary Wars resulting from the failure of diplomacy to dissuade the Barbary pirates from their attacks. “Economics is always in there somewhere,” Varisco stated in a similarly bizarre fashion when discussing the United States’ first encounter with jihadists.
Turning to the present, Varisco condemned as “Islamophobic” the Clarion Project along with its film Obsession, the website Answering Islam, and Franklin Graham for having called Islam “evil.” One particular focus of Varisco was the anti-Catholic writer Jack Chick who in his cartoon publications had wildly slandered the Catholic Church as Islam’s inventor. Another emphasis for Varisco was evangelical Joel Richardson’s website Joel’s Trumpet with its apocalyptic predictions of an “Islamic Antichrist.”
The little discussed elephant in the room for perceptive “Islamophobia” observers during Varisco’s presentation, though, was “Islamophobe” Number One, Jihad Watch website founder Spencer. Varisco cited a Spencer quotation from his book Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics listed at the website Spencer Watch. Varisco once again failed to explain why Spencer’s condemnations of Islam as an “often downright false revelation” and “threat to the world at large” were unacceptable. Varisco also noted a recent Jihad Watch entry criticizing his very Georgetown briefing.
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Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. You may follow Harrod on twitter at @AEHarrod.
Over at Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer is laughing